15

This should be an easier one; I remember this one fairly clearly.

Years ago I read a story where a team of explorers are exploring a planet. They have a mother ship as home base, and the mission is controlled by a highly intelligent computer.

Michael Target — the main character of the story — sets out to examine mysterious metal cylinders left by a previous race. I think he says there were around 200. They are long and thin as far as I can recall. He notices that they do not have dust on them, but they are lying in piles of dust. He takes the outer plates off of one of them, and photographs the inside.

Suddenly one of them tilts up, and Michael runs for cover. It shoots at him, destroying the air-creating apparatus which he wears on his back. He gets into a small cave beneath a boulder, but drops his camera in his dash. His back-pack which contains his replacement air machine is left behind outside.

All of the cylinders take off, and start flying (vertically I think) around his hiding place. The ship computer remarks that his file says he is a good marksman, and instructs him to shoot them near the nose. I remember it mentioning that his gun had a tubeless scope. When he shoots a cylinder, it just wobbles and resumes its circuit. They have two computer systems, so one would have to be shot twice for it to be destroyed.

Michael's ship's computer lies to him, telling him that it can see what is happening through his camera outside. In reality it does its best to calculate when the same cylinder come in range. Eventually one is hit twice, exploding and blinding all of the others. Michael, now oxygen-starved, gets out of his cave and retrieves his other air machine.

Back at his mother ship, Michael Target's friend jokes about "the Target that shot back".


There is a lot to go on, but I have not been successful in finding the story online. I read it in a book of short space stories, which included part of Out of the Silent Planet.

It also included a story about a family escaping from Earth which is wiped out by a war, and settling on Mars. In that story each boy got a city of their choice to live in.

There was also a story about a galactic trophy-hunter who shoots a huge, furry, sentient alien, but learns what he has done from others of its kind. He had a dog to help him.

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    Just to check, is "Michael" Target a generic name you gave him, or are you positive the guy was called Michael/Mikael/Mike/Mickael etc? Also- how old is "old"? 50s, 90s, three years ago? :p – Jenayah Dec 28 '18 at 17:44
  • Magazine ( I'm thinking Planet Stories) or anthology? Is it one of those recent mega-compilations of classic stories? – Spencer Dec 28 '18 at 17:56
  • That story (Out of the Silent Planet) only appears to have been collected in two places; here and here – Valorum Dec 28 '18 at 18:09
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    @Jenayah I'm pretty sure it was either "Michael" or something very close; I remember the computer saying "Your meaning is not clear to me, Michael". I have no idea how old it was, it was in a book of sci-fi short stories I read 8-12 years ago. – user109688 Dec 28 '18 at 18:10
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    @hat For me, a mere 8-12 years is pretty recent. – Spencer Dec 28 '18 at 21:14
14

"Gambler's choice" (1971) by Bob Shaw, collected in Alien Worlds: Stories of Adventure on Other Planets (1981) along with an excerpt of "Out of the Silent Planet". The original story is collected on archive.org, here.

The guy's name is Mike Targett and the computer's is Aesop.

There appears to have been at least two versions of that story, because the archive.org link above does not have the "Target shot back" pun, while the Ship of Strangers (1978) collection has it (Google Books link):

'This is lovely material for my book, Mike.' Clifford Pollen's reedy voice was pitched with excitement as he leaned across the mess table. 'I'm going to call the chapter “The Day The Targett Started Shooting Back”. Good isn't it?'

Mike Targett, who had learned to endure every possible joke about his surname, nodded his head. 'Very original, that.'

More precisely...

Michael Target sets out to examine mysterious metal cylinders left by a previous race. I think he says there were around 200. They are long and thin as far as I can recall.

Scattered across the level ground — in random groupings — were hundreds of slim black cylinders, the nearest only a few dozen paces from Targett. They were about twenty feet in length and tapered at each end. Targett’ s heart began a steady, peaceful pounding as it came to him that the alien objects certainly were not discarded canisters, as Surgenor had suggested. He took the miniature television camera from his belt, plugged it briefly into the suit’s powerpack and aimed it at the nearest cylinders.

“Aesop,” he said. “I’ve made visual contact.”

Suddenly one of them tilts up, and Michael runs for cover. It shoots at him, destroying the air-creating apparatus which he wears on his back.

“Scan your surroundings. If you see a rock formation that would give you protection against machine rifle fire — go to it immediately!”

“What’s the matter?” Targett glanced around the shimmering plateau.

“Don’t ask questions,” Surgenor’s voice cut in. “Do as Aesop says. Run for cover.”

“But—”

Targett’s voice faded as his peripheral vision picked up a sudden movement. He turned toward it and saw that — in the center of the plateau — one of the hundreds of cylinders had reared its sharp end at an angle into the air. It was swaying slowly and blindly, as though supported by a loose wire. [...]

He slid a gloved hand around to the lower part of his back where the bullet had struck, felt an unfamiliar jagged edge of metal. His probing fingers discovered a crumpled, boxlike object — the ruins of his oxygen generator.

Michael's ship's computer lies to him, telling him that it can see what is happening through his camera outside. In reality it does its best to calculate when the same cylinder come in range. Eventually one is hit twice, exploding and blinding all of the others.

“Perhaps all those explosions burned it out.” “No.” Aesop paused. “Transmissions ceased when you dropped the camera. There is a good probability that the switch got jarred to the off position.”

“Very likely. 1 was moving — ” Targett stopped speaking as a disturbing thought occurred to him. “Then you lied to me. You weren’t able to track the torpedoes—”

“That is correct.”

“But you were telling me when to fire. How did you know I would hit one of the torpedoes twice?”

“I didn’t.” Aesop’s voice was precise, unruffled. “This is something you in particular should understand, Michael. I simply took a chance.”


Found with the Google query "Your meaning is not clear to me, Michael".

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    Not a duplicate, but another story id involving "Ship of Strangers": scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/66931/… – Organic Marble Dec 28 '18 at 21:51
  • I definitely read it in Alien Worlds: Stories of Adventure on Other Planets. Maybe if I had searched that snippet quote I would have found it. You wouldn't have got 145 rep from this then, though : ). Thanks for your detective work. – user109688 Dec 29 '18 at 7:40

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